Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

In light of the events in our country today concerning the Holy Church, I have decided to write.

I am not saying that I am perched atop a high mountain, in a perfect position to judge matters clearly and impartially. In fact I cannot say that I am impartial: I have my presuppositions, my biases. I am what many might term conservative: that is, one who does not wish to press relentlessly forward, hacking the weeds in the name of liberalism and progress. I am a Roman Catholic: possibly not a devout one, and possibly a withered branch clinging to the ecclesiastic tree, but one at least who identifies himself within it. And although I personally think, that is, in a conceptual level, that the use of contraceptives should be an option freely given to those who would have it, I believe that the attacks against the Church these days is, for the greater part, below the belt. Hence, I shall speak as I may in her behalf.

The Church is currently drawing fire due to her stand regarding the Reproductive Health bill. As to the bill itself, I shall in this essay not tackle in detail, not because of any attempt from my part to gloss over the chinks in the Church’s armor, but because this is an issue that others more informed and intelligent than I have discussed and debated upon. I shall concern myself with the reception the Church has received. I have in mind, of course, two reactions, namely, 1) that the Church is attempting to extend her arm into the State, and 2) that the Church is retrogressive, an obstacle against progress.

Only a day ago we have seen a Mr. Carlos Celdran, a tour guide in Intramuros, interrupt Mass in the Manila Cathedral by holding up a placard with the name “Damaso” on it. The name, of course, is a reference to the notorious friar in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Fray Damaso Verdolagas, has, among other atrocities, abused his power in the Church to influence politics. Whether Mr. Celdran’s action is rude and uncalled for is not the point here; it is the accusation that the Church is overstepping her boundary to exercise control over the State that is brought to light. But before one makes conclusions, it is important to ask: but what is the meaning of “Separation of Church and State”? In the 1987 Philippine constitution, the matter is presented as follows:

The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

(Article II, Section 6)

and

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

(Article III, Section 5)

Legally speaking, then, the idea of “Separation of Church and State” does necessarily mean that the Church is not to have any opinion or say regarding the affairs of the State, or, for that matter, even vice versa. What the constitution provides for is the independence, and not the isolation, of one from the other. And the Church, insofar as it is not an exclusive club or a political party, but rather, a “sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium, par. 1) — that is to say, a community of humans, with humans, and for humans — must at one point or another find itself in dialogue with the State (jJust as the State, as the custodian and guardian of the law and of her people’s rights, also finds itself responsible for the Church). The Church, then, can and indeed must have a say in issues wherein the common good is at stake.

But what of a bishop’s saying that President Aquino can be excommunicated? Is this not an attempt to force the State’s hand to her will? Perhaps. It may also be an all-too-human clergyman’s over-the-top attempt to quell what he perceives to be an immorality. Whatever the circumstances, one cannot properly say that excommunication is a power the Church cannot use. It is not a temporal exercise reserved for the State; it is an ecclesiastic authority based on Jesus’s words to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat 16:19) Whether the State shall pay heed to the threat of excommunication or not is up to her own judgment. In the Noli Me Tangere, excommunication certainly does not deter Señor Crisostomo Ibarra from his purpose.

But why does the said bishop threaten President Aquino with excommunication? On what grounds? From here we can proceed to the second reaction: the Church, as she had done ever since the Medieval age, is blocking the way into progress. Can we say that this is true?

One must wonder why the Church bothers to speak against the Reproductive Health bill in the first place. What does the Church have to gain for herself by banning contraceptives? Or is this opposition merely her way of showing off her power and influence in the affairs of the State? But, alas, the age of the Church’s having real temporal power has long been over. In Europe it ended with the formation of the Kingdom of Italy; in the Philippines it ended with the Spanish government. Whatever power the Church has left is nothing but a moral one.

This is not to say that the Church is composed of fully and totally moral individuals. As a community of human beings, the Church is naturally as flawed as her members. But does a father who smokes and drinks too much wine become any less credible, less respectable, less deserving to be heard by his children? Does a State filled with corrupt and inefficient officials become any less a guardian and custodian of the law? The Church, then, as long as she professes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, cannot be any less than a re-interpreter, a living reminder of His ethical and moral teachings. And, of course, part of Christian morality is the struggle against evil, and, specifically, against sin.

But contraceptives, one might argue, do not lead to the death of a baby. And from what I know, this is true with methods such as the condom and IUD. But these things notwithstanding, three possible moral points concerning the bill can be raised. First, is the death of a baby the only possible sin? Are not methods like vasectomy, by taking away something of the human body’s natural processes, damaging the integrity of the human body? By putting one’s own body at risk, is it not a tampering, not only of God’s design, but also of one’s health? Second, is the bill the proper response to problems such as poverty? Is curtailing overpopulation the sole, the only, and the most crucial means of promoting economic progress? Is suppressing the birth of human life the best answer? And third, is it not possible that, by acceding today to the call for contraceptives, we might, tomorrow, call for abortion — for the betterment of mankind? By ratifying this bill, are we possibly one step away from allowing a scapegoat to bear the brunt of our moving forward?

There are, admittedly, no fast answers to these points. Who knows? Perhaps the Reproductive Health bill might well be the necessary means of saving of country. But as a moral force, the Church, for her part, cannot take any chances. She has taken it upon herself to speak for the voiceless, the unborn child who cannot speak for himself.

This is because the violence committed against the voiceless must not happen again.

Ever since the Enlightenment era and the development of industry and liberalism, the civilized world, or, to be specific, the West, has recklessly pushed ever forward. Seeing himself as the center of his universe, the enlightened man has pursued his manifest destiny to “subdue and fill the earth,” to will himself to power, to advance his nation, to gain greater knowledge and understanding. Growth and progress — these things have spurred him on, and nothing else mattered. Not the groaning earth. Not the alien Other.

And we have paid a heavy price for progress. Until today, we, and the Jewish people in particular, are still coming to terms with the Holocaust. We are experiencing the brunt of climate change. The ghosts of those whom we have silenced have come to haunt us.

So, is the Church, this moral force, this persistent gadfly, retrogressive? Is it an obstacle to progress? The final answer, then, may just as well be “yes.” But if progress means subduing all those who do not have voices, letting others be the scapegoats of our advance, then I personally would renounce this noble aim. I would rather stay on this shore, this passing world, the Kingdom outside of which there is only darkness, the darkness of blind progress. Perhaps there is wisdom in listening to a crazed man howling his hoarse warnings in the wilderness. Now that we are at the edge of passing this controversial bill, in the edge of putting the history of the retrogressive Church behind, taking a step backward might be preferable to stumbling down the steep cliff of moral degeneration.

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